Section 54: Colesville Saints Sent to Zion
You will recall that in section 51, those saints from Colesville, New York, on their arrival in Ohio, were settled in Thompson, Ohio. They were commanded to live the law of consecration under the leadership of Newel Knight, their branch president. They moved onto the 759 acre farm of Leman Copley, a new convert and former Shaker. The agreement entered into with Leman Copley was that he would consecrate half of his farm to the Church and sell the other half to the Church at a fair price.
Serious problems arose soon after their arrival. When Leman Copley returned from the Shaker mission, which he had enthusiastically proposed, he appeared to have been somewhat “shaken.” He had begun to wonder if perhaps his former church was not right, after all, and the restored Church was wrong. To make matters worse, when Leman returned to Thompson, many of the members there, people who were living on his land through his generosity, blamed him for deceiving them with the hope of converting the Shakers.
When Bishop Edward Partridge began to divide up Leman Copley’s farm according to the principle of stewardships, according to the earlier agreement, Leman, who had not yet legally conveyed his property to the Church, withdrew his offer. In the bitter exchanges that followed, Leman ordered the Colesville saints off his land. He also charged them rent for the time they had lived there, despite the fact that they had planted his fields, built fences, and made other major improvements to the property.
Problems had also arisen among the Colesville branch members as they tried to live the law of consecration. One of their number, Ezra Thayer, apparently was a major part of the problem.
In section 52 both Newel Knight and Ezra Thayer had been called on missions to Missouri. Newel was to serve with Selah J. Griffin, and Ezra with Thomas B. Marsh. In this section, however, the Lord changes Newel Knight’s assignment. He is asked to “stand fast” in his present assignment as branch president of the Colesville saints. Ezra Thayer was having serious misgivings about his missionary call and his church membership. Thus, in section 56 the Lord will reassign Thomas Marsh and Selah J. Griffin to travel together as missionaries to Zion.
All of these events put the Colesville Branch in a difficult spot. Newel Knight was appointed by the Colesville Branch to petition Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord concerning the course of action they should pursue, and Joseph did so inquire in June 1831. It seems likely that sections 52, 53, and 55 were all received on, or just before, June 6, 1831, and that section 54 was received somewhat later. Thus, section 54 is out of chronological sequence.
In section 54, the Colesville saints are commanded, as a group, to move to Missouri to begin to build up Zion. They thus became the first body of saints commanded to move to Missouri. At this early date, it was not intended that any of the other branches in Ohio should go to Missouri.
Newel Knight is remembered from his early days in the Church in Colesville, New York, and by his involvement in the first miracle of the Church. Prior to his baptism, he was once asked by the Prophet to pray in public, but being timid, he refused. The result was that an evil spirit seized him and distorted his face, twisted his limbs, and tossed him about fearfully. Joseph cast out the evil spirit in the name of the Lord. Thus, was the first official miracle in this dispensation accomplished.
1 Behold, thus saith the Lord, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, even he who was crucified for the sins of the world—
verse 1 “even Alpha and Omega” See the commentary for D&C 19:1.
2 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, my servant Newel Knight, you shall stand fast in the office whereunto I have appointed you.
verse 2 “you shall stand fast in the office whereunto I have appointed you” See the introductory commentary for this section.
3 And if your brethren desire to escape their enemies, let them repent of all their sins, and become truly humble before me and contrite.
verse 3 “if your brethren desire to escape their enemies” Newel Knight’s brethren were the members of the Colesville Branch. Joseph Smith taught that salvation was victory over one’s enemies, which enemies are death, hell, and the devil (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 28:23). Here, however, the Lord may have reference to the Church’s enemies in Ohio.
“let them repent of all their sins” The members of the branch at Thompson had been rude and unkind to Leman Copley in reaction to the failure of the Shaker mission. Some had also shown selfishness rather than humility or gratitude over the prospects of receiving stewardships from the Copley farm in Thompson. Their attitudes and behavior had contributed in some degree to the loss of the Thompson properties and rendered them homeless, and thus more vulnerable to their enemies.
4 And as the covenant which they made unto me has been broken, even so it has become void and of none effect.
verse 4 “the covenant which they made unto me has been broken” These words are addressed not just to Leman Copley but to the entire Thompson branch, some of whom shared blame with Leman for the failure of this attempt at consecration.
5 And wo to him by whom this offense cometh, for it had been better for him that he had been drowned in the depth of the sea.
verse 5 We are left to wonder to whom the Lord applied this verse. Perhaps in the final analysis, it was Leman Copley who took back his consecration.
“drowned in the depth of the sea” Robert J. Matthews has pointed out that the Lord, in dealing with mortal man, has always been inclined to use colorful and attention-getting figures of speech. He wrote:
We find these in conversation with his disciples, in teaching the multitudes, and in censuring the Jewish rulers. Some examples are as follows: When he called fishermen into his service he said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If one knowingly gives offense (which means to lead someone away from the faith), said Jesus, “it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). That is, it would have been better for the person to have died, rather than to have committed that sin. Of Judas who betrayed him, Jesus said, “it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). John the Baptist was praised by Jesus as a “burning and a shining light” and of being “much more than a prophet” (John 5:35; Luke 7:26). James and John he surnamed the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), while the Jewish rulers he called “hypocrites,” “blind guides . . . children of hell,” “like unto whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones,” “a generation of vipers” (Matthew 23:15-16; 23:27, 33). To a man who had been cured of a physical ailment, Jesus said, “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14), not meaning that every physical ailment is the direct result of sin, but rather that sin would lead to a loss of salvation, which is worse than having a physical affliction. Of those Pharisees and scribes who had such great inconsistency in their beliefs, he said they “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). To others he declared, “if thy hand offend thee, cut if off . . . if thy foot offend thee cut it off . . . and if thine eye . . . offend thee, pluck it out” (Matthew 18:8-9) (Behold the Messiah, 227).
Can one imagine a more frightening way to die than to have a millstone hung about one’s neck and then be thrown into the sea?!
6 But blessed are they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment, for they shall obtain mercy.
7 Wherefore, go to now and flee the land, lest your enemies come upon you; and take your journey, and appoint whom you will to be your leader, and to pay moneys for you.
verse 7 As is pointed out in the commentary for verses 7-8 below, the Lord commands the Colesville saints to go to Missouri.
“appoint whom you will to be your leader” Not surprisingly, Newel Knight was chosen to lead the members of the Thompson branch to Missouri.
“and to pay moneys for you” Perhaps this phrase refers to settling the monetary obligations Leman Copley imposed on the saints who had lived on his land after he fell away from the Church.
8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.
verses 7-8 “take your journey” Following their failure to obtain permanent land in Kirtland, the Colesville saints are commanded, with very little notice, to leave Ohio and go to Missouri. About sixty faithful members obeyed this commandment, leaving Ohio on July 3 and arriving in Independence, Missouri, on July 25. The Colesville saints stuck together in Ohio and throughout their lives in the Church, partially through family ties and other natural bonds of affection.
9 And after you have done journeying, behold, I say unto you, seek ye a living like unto men, until I prepare a place for you.
verse 9 “seek ye a living like unto men” Though the Colesville saints had already entered into the covenant of consecration in Ohio, because of their circumstances the Lord instructs them to earn their living in Missouri as best they can by normal secular means until the law of consecration and stewardship can be organized for them there. This will turn out to be an exception to the rule, as normally only those saints who agree to live by the law of consecration in Missouri will be asked to emigrate there from the East.
10 And again, be patient in tribulation until I come; and, behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, and they who have sought me early shall find rest to their souls. Even so. Amen.
verse 10 “they who have sought me early shall find rest to their souls”
See the commentary for D&C 15:6.
- Michael J. Preece